Cher’s best actress Oscar, which she won for her performance in Moonstruck (1987), is on a mantel in the living room of her latest house, in Malibu. It was a thrill to win the Academy Award, but it was also “unreal, unbelievable,” she says. Bette Midler recently observed that “Cher can go on forever—her career is larger than God so far,” but the forty-five-year-old entertainer has never touted her talents, either as a singer or as an actress, and she claims not to be “most proud” of anything. “I feel my movies are good but not great. I’m not a serious actor and I’m not a serious singer, though I’m a much better actor than I am a singer. My voice is okay—only mildly annoying.”
She’s been singing since she was a teenager, made her Broadway debut in 1982 in Robert Altman’s Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, and in the same year appeared in the film of the play. She silenced skeptical critics in Silkwood (1983) and was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. But as far as Cher is concerned, building and redesigning houses is as much a creative act as singing or acting. “I would have loved being a decorator,” she says.
There have been fifteen houses in the last twenty years, and only one—her Egyptian fortress in Benedict Canyon, where she lived for ten years—has she ever called a home. “That was the only house I ever had any real emotional ties to,” Cher says. “Her career is restless,” says her designer and confidant, Ron Wilson, “just as her life is somewhat restless. Her house is close to the most important thing there is to her.
“Ron and I can be anyplace from completely identical to completely opposite,” Cher says of her partnership with Wilson. “Even if he thinks my ideas are crazy, he goes along with them and he makes them work. He thought I was crazy when we first started talking about this new house.” Cher asked if Wilson had ever seen the film Giant. When he said he had, she told him, “I guess you’d call it Victorian. That’s how I feel.”
“She demands that everything be different from what I’ve done in the past for her,” Wilson says. “I think of myself as a safe designer, and she’s always insisting that I not be safe with her. She is quite intense in the way she feels about whatever she’s talking about. And I try to cut through it and pick up on something that she’s taken this to.” The Malibu experience finally saw completion with the new year. It took ten and a half months for the house to be renovated, remodeled and landscaped.
The overall impression of the residence, as with her vacation house in Aspen, is one of comfort, where it seems all right to sink into the deepcushioned furniture and put one’s feet up. But while the house was intended to be extremely casual, Cher shudders at the idea of someone actually putting shoes on her furniture. “I don’t want people to do that,” she says. She also insists that everything be in place before she moves into any house. “She will not make a move unless it’s absolutely finished down to the last item,” Ron Wilson says. “She has an enormous collection of crucifixes that are of tremendous importance to her. They have to be strategically placed around the house. So does the baby grand piano that she’s had for years and that must go in the living room.”
But why, one must ask, does Cher keep moving from house to house? Ron Wilson says it’s because she loves the process. “She probably loves decoration more than I do,” he says. So as good as this new house might be, for Cher it’s only temporary. She still has this vision of a 20,000-square foot walled fortress, shimmering like a mirage in the Sahara.